1) It features some pretty distinct sites that deserve their own space to breathe.
2) Strategically, it’s one of the main
reasons Russia sought to annex the Crimea in the first place.
As noted in the Yalta post, the Crimean Peninsula is considered more “Russian” than Ukrainian, to they point where, when Russia decided to move in an annex the peninsula in 2014, they were fairly legitimately able to use the “protecting Ethnic Russian” argument, claiming annexation was happening so they could “protect” Crimea from what was happening in the rest of Ukraine. With Sevastapol being Russia’s best connection to the Black Sea, and housing its prominent Black Sea Fleet, it would be hard to argue that Russians there would be in danger. It wouldn’t, however, be hard to argue the strategical significance of the port or, or the strategical reasons for an annexation. Without it, Russia loses a major trade route and the Ukraine grows in power. Something that, historically, Russia has not been super keen on.
So, again, the disclaimer that writing about a city that I saw in 2010 with the context of 2017. Assuming the main tourist stops have remained the same, especially since the first one has existed for a few thousand years.
Dating back to the 6th Century BC, Chersonesus proves that Sevastopol has held a valued spot in trade and politics way before Russia decided to bring it to the world’s attention. Originally settled by the Greeks, it switched hands between the Romans, Huns, and Byzantines before ending up as a part of Kievan Rus (which many regard as “proto-Russia”). It would have a cup of coffee being run by the Genoese, and was sacked by the Golden Horde, but it has stayed an important part of Ukrainian and Russian heritage due to the connection to St. Vladimir, the man who brought Christianity to Kievan Rus. The site’s largest structure, St. Vladimir’s Cathedral, is said to cover the site where he was baptized in 988 AD. The area was recognized by UNESCO as a Heritage Site in 2013.
Chersonesus ranks as another one of those lesser-known ancient sites where you can walk around relatively unscathed by hordes of tourists. Apart from the aforementioned cathedral, the “1935 Cathedral” is its most prominent sight, a 6th Century cathedral excavated in – wait for it – 1935(!), which amounts to a few walls and columns at this point. The whole site is easily walkable, and with its seaside location, can make for some cool summer walks on hotter days.
During the Crimean War, the British, French and Ottomans laid siege to the city for 11 months. Eventually, the city fell, with the Russians escaping to the north. Not wanting to leave behind any toys for their enemies to play with, they chose to sink their entire fleet to keep it from falling into enemy hands, a move so large that it effectively blocked access for ships to get into the city. This event is commemorated by a massive monument alongside the Sevastopol waterfront, which was serving not only as a memorial, but as a place for locals to swim and cool off around.
The Defense of Sevastopol is also represented in a giant panoramic painting created by Franz Roubaud who, in the early 20th century, created what was probably the 3D-IMAX of its time. Housed in a gigantic circular building, the panorama is painted and lit in a way where it legitimately appears 3D in certain areas. There’s an audio guide when you go in, and I’d definitely recommend using it, as it gives you the play-by-play of the battle, brings your attention to prominent paintings, and really helps the whole thing come alive.
Sevastopol was under siege again, this time by the Germans during WWII, for 250 days between 1941 and 1942. The Russians liberated it in 1944 and it was granted “Hero City” status alongside several other Russian cities a year later. You can see several examples of classic Soviet monuments throughout the city.
With a combination of our own transportation and our feet, Sevastopol was pretty easily viewed within a day. If you’re into military history, it’s definitely a must-see city. Maybe even more so than the next city we’d visit, which would feature a defining moment in the formation of Russia.